We're back with part two of our annual series that uses statistical methods to project how many points each of the Winnipeg Jets will score. Last time we looked at the top-six forwards, and we also explained what we're doing in a bit more detail, so check that out if you're just tuning in.
This time, we're going to look at the defensemen, and see if we can set realistic point-scoring expectations for the blue line (and, as a bonus, get the formatting right). How did we do last year? I'm glad you asked! As we wrote in last year's recap, "Dustin Byfuglien had another odds-defying season, Zach Bogosian was near the top end of projections and Mark Stuart's scoring was a pleasant surprise. Everyone else pretty much hit expectations more-or-less, except their one scoring disappointment Randy Jones."
I love fat jokes as much as the next guy, but it's hard to laugh at a guy who continues to defy projections (though VUKOTA was very close). Sure, he would perhaps get even better results if he had a stronger commitment to conditioning, but you can't ignore his clear success last year even though he was used mostly against the top lines for a change, albeit with an offensive zone boost.
Byfuglien has risen to the challenge of his heightened responsibilities since coming over from Chicago, responding with great possession numbers while enjoying a team on-ice shooting percentage up from the mid-6% to the mid-8% - unfortunately the increased competition has also caused a steady drop in save percentage from .945 in 2008-09 to .896 last season. The next evolutionary step for Byfuglien would be to take on some penalty killing duties.
Though his shots dropped from 347 back down to 223, he's still been fantastic offensively. His even-strength scoring rate was an amazing 1.5 points per 60 minutes, matching his 2008-09 season when he was a winger, and was fantastic on the power play once again. If he's healthy he should continue to score the same 50+ points.
Of his ten closest matches only one failed to score 50 points, and four of them scored at least 60. Statistically his closest historical match is Steve Duchesne, a fellow offensive-minded power play specialist, albeit much smaller, who had a nice 16-year career with seven different teams, scoring 20 goals four times – only ten other defensemen have done that. Of course, his last 20-goal season was at Byfuglien's current age (27).
Despite his drop in scoring we absolutely nailed Tobias Enstrom's production last year, so we're pretty confident we've got a handle on him this year too. Four of his ten closest matches scored 40 points and only two failed to score at least 30.
Going into last season Enstrom has 26 goals and 171 points in 318 games, very similar to Jeff Norton's era-adjusted totals of 16 goals and 141 points in 282 games before almost exactly matching Norton's era-adjusted 6 goals and 34 points in 64 games last year. Should he stay healthy and continue to skate in Norton's steps he could be very close to the best-case scenario in the upper-40s.
This best-case scenario remains plausible so long as they continue to keep Enstrom focused primarily on offense. He doesn't throw hits, consistently gets to play primarily in the offensive zone and though a top penalty killing option back in 2008-09, he's been used only sparingly in such situations since. He was also a solid power play guy once again, and scored above 1.0 points per 60 minutes at even-strength for the third straight season, and remains a decent bet for 40 points if he stays healthy.
It's not the size of the waves, it's the motion of the Bogosian. He was only 21 and yet for the past couple of years Bogosian has been trusted with the highest level of competition, the second lowest offensive zone starts, and top penalty-killing duties.
Not only does he play his physical and defensive game well, but offensively he took 150-155 shots for the third straight season, and doubled his established even-strength scoring rate. He could have really busted loose offensively if he had taken greater advantage of his power play time.
Although the majority of his closest historical matches were in a tight band within the 20s, two of his ten closest matches managed around 10 goals and/or 40 points, including Rick Lanz.
Ok folks, just one more year with a $4.5M cap hit (and a no-trade clause) and the Jets can be rid of Ron Hainsey. After setting a career high of 39 points in 2008-09, his third straight season over 30 points, Hainsey's scoring has gradually dropped to just 10 points last season – and his shots going from 148 to just 57. In fairness he also hasn't gotten any power play time since then, either.
While we're being fair, let's admit that Hainsey's a good shot-blocker, a decent option on the penalty kill, and at least some of his struggles at even-strength these past three seasons are due to facing among the toughest competition while among those with the lowest offensive zone starts. He'll likely continue to be used in such fashion, and therefore finish with the same low double-digit scoring totals.
The good news is that four of the ten closest matches managed 20 points, with a fifth one right behind. The bad news is that one of them wasn't his closest historical statistical match, the hard-hitting Swiss-born Mark Hardy, who managed double-digits only once more in his remaining four seasons with the New York Rangers and Los Angeles Kings.
While he's managed gradual increases in hitting and blocking shots, now throwing 8.6 hits and blocked 7.9 shots per 60 minutes, Mark Stuart has a consistently low even-strength scoring rate and has unfortunately fallen right back into his old penalty-taking ways.
Stuart has seen gradually increasing usage on the penalty kill, no usage on the power play, and is used strictly against below-average competition at even-strength, where the team somehow normally finds itself at a shot-based disadvantaged anyway.
We won't have particularly high scoring hopes for Mark Stuart, as only three of his ten closest matches could equal or better last year's 14 points, which didn't include his closest historical match: 80s-era thug Steven Finn, the worst-case scenario.
The average projection for my friend Chuck's favourite Jet Grant Clitsome (clue: he also liked Ron Tugnutt) was pulled up by two fantastic historical matches, but ultimately settled in the upper 20s. IN fact, seven of the ten closest matches were in a tight band between 22.2 and 26.5 points.
Clitsome was fantastic on the power play for Columbus in 2010-11, scoring quite well at even-strength too, but didn't do nearly as well last year. Without power play success he's mostly a typical third-line defenseman at best, and would likely finish closer to where VUKOTA places him.
That's it for the six primary Jets defensemen. In our final piece we'll look at the remaining forwards. Enjoy your long week-end – since Byfuglien isn't Canadian there should be plenty of Thanksgiving turkey for everyone.